Batman: Arkham Knight Dropped The Ball On One Major Character: Batman

Batman: Arkham Knight Dropped the Ball On One Major Character: Batman

Batman: Arkham Knight sets up from the beginning to be one of the best Batman stories out there — and then it falls flat at every key moment.

Here's the thing about Batman: The more time you spend with him, the more you realise that he's not actually that interesting a guy. Sure, he's broody and dark, has all kinds of emotional baggage, and is totally unable to allow himself to be happy for fear it will all get snatched away one dark night in a shadowy alley.

But he's also unshakeable, nigh unstoppable, and damn near infallible. Certainly not in every single story, but most of the time, Batman has unlimited resources, incredible technology, preternatural deduction capabilities and a moral compass that never goes awry.

That's what makes Arkham Knight inherently so compelling, and ultimately so disappointing. Thematically, it's all about Batman's failures. It just forgets to let him actually fail.

Be prepared: I'm spoiling the hell out of Batman: Arkham Knight's story. If you're not finished with it, time to stop reading.

Batman: Arkham Knight Dropped the Ball On One Major Character: Batman

Throughout the story of Arkham Knight, Batman is, at least presumably, on his back foot against his supervillain adversaries. He's slowly dying from the dose of the Joker's blood he received in Arkham City, and coupled with Scarecrow's fear toxin, it's causing him to start hallucinating the Joker everywhere he goes. He's struggling with an enemy, a mercenary called the Arkham Knight, who clearly knows much more about Batman than any one adversary rightly should.

Then, fairly early on, he loses Oracle to a kidnapping that (one assumes would) seriously damage his abilities to deal with Scarecrow's plans. Batman even finds himself believing her to be dead — she isn't, thanks to a trick of hallucinatory fear gas hooplah, but he thinks she's dead, and that's enough.

Batman is a mess in Arkham Knight. He's actively cutting Robin No. 3, Tim Drake, out of the loop, he's seeing Joker all over the place, and he's very nearly killed a couple of times. There's a lot going on with his character, with Arkham Knight picking up a few long-running threads from the other games in the series that characterise Rocksteady's version of Batman. This video from Elder-Geek.com has a great analysis:

Thematically, Arkham Knight wants to be a deep story about Batman coming to grips with the reality that he is just a man, and that he can't do everything on his own.

Functionally, it's a game about punching everything, from criminals to blood diseases to madness, until it goes away.

Arkham Knight's fundamental storytelling flaw is the tagline "Be the Bat." That has some really huge implications following it around. Batman is cool: he uses cool gadgets, he has cool fighting moves, he drives a cool car, he solves cool mysteries with his cool brain. "Be the Bat" is a particular fantasy players are expecting the game to deliver.

Batman is constantly encountering failure in Arkham Knight but it's never your failure. You're winning the fight against Scarecrow and the Knight, and winning it handily, in fact. Every time a ton of tanks show up, you dispatch them with no problem. You beat up and arrest the Arkham Knight's militia single-handedly. You're Batman — you're right, you're tough, and you win.

But the game is about how you lose, so every major failure of Batman's takes place in a cutscene. It's a hard sell for a narrative about failure to constrain all the failure to portions of the experience in which the player is not taking part.

Batman: Arkham Knight Dropped the Ball On One Major Character: Batman

Still, this could all work, even with just cutscenes to show how Batman is actually coming apart moment by moment. The trouble is, Batman isn't coming apart, not in the gameplay and not in the story. Batman's just as straight-faced and stoic as always, and that kills any character development Arkham Knight might be attempting.

The most telling moments are any of the interludes in which the hallucinatory Joker, a section of Batman's own subconscious, shows up to comment on whatever just happened. These happen frequently, and they're often some of Arkham Knight's best, funniest story beats. We're supposed to be watching Batman lose his mind, and the implications are far-reaching and fascinating.

Too bad Batman never engages with the Joker. There's no back-and-forth between the two characters. There's no internal debate for Batman about his decisions or his shortcomings. He never outwardly worries about the fact the worst psychopath he's ever faced is inside his head. He just keeps going on, secure in the fact that he's Batman and infallible, and the game makes sure everything (eventually) works out.

When the Joker personality nearly takes Batman over, we don't get a sense of his fear or anger. We don't find out what it's like for Batman as a person or see how he overcomes it. He just does. He just makes the Batman face and throws punches and cures himself.

Batman: Arkham Knight Dropped the Ball On One Major Character: Batman

Even when Batman is confronted with the Arkham Knight's identity as Jason Todd — former friend, former ward, former Robin, who Batman thought dead and who was, even worse, tortured by the Joker for years instead — Batman barely reacts. In fact, he just lets the Knight go in the end. Keep in mind this is a guy who led a military occupation of an American city (treason) and threatened a huge chunk of the country with a weapon of mass destruction (terrorism).

Batman's greatest failure is literally staring him in the face and he hasn't got anything to say about it?

And that's ultimately why Batman: Arkham Knight stumbles and falters as the concluding chapter of Rocksteady's story. Batman's not the protagonist of his own tale. He's a suit, not a person. And while the game really, really wishes it could tell a compelling story about who Batman is and who he has become, it just doesn't have the courage to allow you to "Be the Bat" and let the Bat be a man.

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance journalist and co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveller's Guide to Time Travel and The Space Hero's Guide to Glory. You can follow him on Twitter at @philhornshaw or contact him at [email protected]


Comments

    I didn't read the article, because I only have a PC and WB won't sell the game to me, so I don't want spoilers.

    But, from the first paragraph that I did read, I agree that Batman's unlimited resources etc. can be an obstacle to interesting character. I like that DC have Green Arrow, who is essentially a Batman that nobody gives a crap about, so they're happy to make him broke and explore the effects that has on him as a person and a hero. That's cool.

    If I were given Batman to work on, in any media form, I'd probably start him with all of his incredible toys and then gradually beat him down and strip him of gadgets until he's exhausted, alone, and relying on his raw detective abilities and pure willpower. Some kind of "Raid" or "Dredd" setup.

    It's always been interesting to me that games (all games, not just the Arkham ones) throw you in when the character is at their weakest. As you progress in skill they make it easier and easier (more armour, more weapons, etc.) but introduce enemies that take more damage so that overall it feels even. I think it would be an interesting experiment to start you with everything and then strip the character as the player's skills increase, so that by the end you're relying on skill and not armour to save you.

      Green arrow is not broke... really really REALLY not broke. As a matter of fact its routinely stated that he is not too far behind Bats.

        Didn't they make him broke for a while sometime around the Blackest Night/Brightest Day storyline?

        I'm very slowly (like glacier-speed) catching up on some of the classic Green Arrow stuff so I can only remember it from the Brightest Day tie-ins, but I thought he lost everything when the city became a forest or something.

          But pre 52 while now canon does not set the current status quo... he is a play boy on a bike fighting metal octopus.

        I'm certainly not up-to-date on any comics, so you're probably right. But they have occasionally made him broke (I read the comics as a kid, but Wikipedia tells me that it was probably the Dennis O'Neil run from the late '60s through to the early '80s), and I'm not aware of any Batman stories that do that.

        I'm also not up on the Arrow TV show (didn't really like it), but they seemed to be taking everything away from him in that.

    Gross hyperbole coupled with a narrow perspective/education of narrative and representation.

    Do not take seriously when writers are undereducated in their topics of discussion.

    I think many characters were spread a little too thin, many of the villains didn't fit their parts in the story and even the apparent big bad guy that the game is named after turned out to be a quick set of puzzles that culminated in a disappointing video of... NOTHING.

    The whole issue with Knight was that it could only have so much actual content spread across a very large area; both in terms of placement in the map and game life.

    While I disagree with most of your points, I do agree that it could've gone further. Spoilers:

    When he locks Tim Drake up I was expecting more of a consequence. He'd already alienated Gordon, thought Oracle dead and lied to Alfred about Robin. But you're still happily collaborating with Nightwing and saving Catwoman, so it never really had an impact. I was happy when the city actually got fear toxin-ed because it showed him being stretched, but it gets fixed in like 10 minutes and you've got another 10% of the game to go before the climax when you don't think he's got a chance of losing.

    Great game, but the story was a little disappointing to me

    But the game is about how you lose, so every major failure of Batman’s takes place in a cutscene. It’s a hard sell for a narrative about failure to constrain all the failure to portions of the experience in which the player is not taking part.

    I think this is the challenge of every Video Game, to find meaningful and fun experiences for the player. I think there's three good examples I can think of where games try to address this:
    1. Farcry Series: You capture Outposts and sometimes they are attacked which you need to help defend, if you fail the Royal Guard take back the Outpost which means you have less fast travel opportunities, etc.
    2. Mass Effect: The idea where decisions you make eventually add up to whether you can save colleagues/planets/races,. etc.
    3. Star Fox 64: In certain missions depending on how you perform you can actually play different missions, and affects your ending/final mission. For example there's one mission where you defend a building on a planet, if you fail you'll do one mission, if you succeed you take a different mission afterwards.

    I think a game I would really love to play would be one where your actions or playing ability genuinely affect how the game will go where the experience is story driven (Different from Minecraft/Other sandbox open world games) , some cutscenes for context but not to railroad you in the pre-ordained direction. I imagine a game like this though would be 150-200gb lol.

      I think an interesting spin on it would be say marines attacking an apparent victor charlie village during 'Nam, only for when the dust to clear you find that it was pure civillians and it was bad intel. In most situations players attempt to excel at attaining their objective, so to find out at the end a number (not a static figure either) of casualties seems like it could give you a sense of loss greater than any situation where control is taken out of your hands.

    I couldn't disagree with you more. Just finished the game and the everything in this game was extremely well done. The only flaw I could discover was the lack of challenge rooms. Other than that, the voice acting was superb, the animations and atmosphere were amazing and immersive and the feeling of the freeflow combat was better than ever.
    And offcourse Batman has nearly unlimited resources, he's fckin Bruce Wayne... you know, billionaire super engineer, bussinessman, martial artist and a superhero in a fictional universe.
    So to me it just seems like you, mr. Journalist, are just another third grade, fed up freelancer who releases tension by writing overly critisizing articles about stuff that's actually so awesome that you don't deserve to write about it. But hey, that's just my opinion.

    Hmm. I have to disagree with you and agree with the author though. He brings up completely valid points. The faked death of Barbara Gordon was a literary cheap-shot. His psychological feud with the Joker never really served any real purpose other than bringing the Joker back from the dead. That also felt cheap. The Joker died in Arkham City, so he should stay dead. Nothing important came from Joker being in Batman's psyche until the very end. And even then Batman manages to defeat Joker so easily as to have no actual affect on the story line in any majorly distinguishing way.

    The Arkham Knight was constantly grating on my ears with his whiny, annoying acting. He's leading a military invasion on American soil, can outwit the Batman, and is a physical match for him too. And yet, he's constantly whining like a 12 year old boy who is mad at his dad for taking his video games away.

    Arkham Knight's identity to me, as a fan, was a slap in the face. I was really looking forward to a new character in the Batman's Universe. And yet, Arkham Knight was simply a reskinning of an old character that anybody who's even partially familiar with the Batman series would see coming from miles away. The only reason I didn't believe the Arkham Knight was Jason Todd for a decent chunk of the game is because I didn't want to believe Rocksteady would do something so cheap. The announcement of the Red Hood DLC was such a dead give away though, and, in my opinion, such a

    The gameplay was great. And the issues I had on PC weren't game stopping, even if they were disheartening and frustrating. The Batmobile was fun, as was gliding around with the grapnel boost upgrades. Combat was cleaner and smoother than ever and I loved it. But the storyline was weak and didn't really take any risks, which is a shame, because if they hadn't pulled their punches, this could have been the most kick ass Batman story in a while.

    But like you said, it's just your opinion and this is just mine. Do I think Arkham Knight deserves the stellar ratings it's received? In a lot of ways, yes. It's a beautiful game and the controls are usually really tight and make for a fun game. The story gets the point across and isn't unbearable. But does being an Arkham game shield it from completely valid criticisms? No. The tank battles detracted from the game. There weren't really any actual boss battles. The Riddler challenges became monotonous. The story was dry and didn't throw any curveballs: it was predictable. Arkham Knight was annoying. You never really defeat Scarecrow, it's just a cutscene. And nothing that happens in the game seems have any permanent consequences - there isn't any real fear because there isn't anything to lose.

    But like I said before, it's just my opinion. A fun game nonetheless that will surely pave the way for future Batman and superhero games in the future.

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